WORDS Amelia Brown PHOTOS Jan Ras
What began as an upmarket version of the humble school chair by Sandalene Dale-Roberts has evolved into a fully fledged manufacturing business.
In 2010, when The Pot Luck Club opened, Sandalene Dale-Roberts proposed to her husband, chef Luke Dale- Roberts, that she design a chair for the restaurant. The school chair had the right attitude: It’s immediately recognisable to the guest but all grown up with leather and fine finishes. Plus, Sandalene could create enough custom chairs to fill a restaurant, all made locally and at a reasonable price.
The chair was a hit, and in the years since Sandalene has made all the chairs for The Test Kitchen’s new interiors and designed and made all the furniture for The Short Market Club. She has also collaborated with Nando’s on Afro-inspired school chairs for its casas under the brand name Naturalis, named for a pop-up restaurant where she originally expanded the range of chairs.
Earlier this year, Sandalene was told the factory that made her chairs, the one she had worked with for seven years to refine the designs and ensure consistency, was in liquidation. Her supply chain was in jeopardy and the workers were going to lose their jobs. In just four months from acquiring the original business’s assets, including its artisans, Sandalene found a factory space and set up Naturalis, with a team of 35.
While the Naturalis range continues to expand, and now includes outdoor pieces and sofas, Sandalene’s intention is to collaborate with other designers and makers. She maintains she’s not a designer, although her previous life as a fashion designer has definitely equipped her with the understanding and appreciation of craft and how things are put together. “I want to focus on manufacture, to ensure jobs for my staff, to acknowledge their work and to empower them,” she says.
For more information, visit naturalis.co.za.